The other night, deep within the dark middle of sleep, Clay rolled over and slipped an arm around my middle. I squirmed into his hug and heard him murmur deep contentment in my ear. I smiled in the dark.
“You know what, honey?” he said in tones loving and sweet, “You’re like a dog.”
“Really?” I asked, “how so?”
He wriggled in a bit closer and sighed.
“I don’t know.”
And then he fell silent, back asleep.
Or…STILL asleep, I’m hoping.
The scene outside my front window.
Clay had to take my van to work. These children keep insisting upon going outside in that, resulting in this:
See the mess? See the overjoyed boy?
This is so not what makes me happy. I wish I were in a hot bath RIGHT NOW.
I'm not feeling the love today, but as long as I don't kill anyone, I figure I'm living the love.
Happy Love Thursday.
This morning, as the children pinged around me like so many over excited neutrons, I set the teakettle on the stove. Tea. Tea would make it better. I was making some fried eggs for Raphael and Max, so I put the kettle on a seldom used back burner and cranked it up to “high as you go, for the luva tea.” A few curls of smoke seeped out from below, but I didn’t think much about it. I shuffled across the kitchen to collect the tea-making detritus. As I stood, puzzling at the open cupboard door, Tre called out,
“Oh HEY! FLAMES!”
I turned to look, but the boys were all clustered around, and I couldn’t see any flames, only brown heads jockeying for position around the stove. I walked over, and in the time it took me to cross the (tiny) kitchen, the fire went from a few small flames to a circle of them, a foot high. They poured out from under the kettle in a liquid curve, tapering into oily black smoke that smudged the microwave. The boys jumped back and turned huge brown eyes to me like searchlights.
“Should I get the…the THING?” Tre chirped anxiously. He meant fire extinguisher, and I said yes, PLEASE. It was right on the other side of the door to the garage, and he grabbed it and pushed it into my hands. I set it down and reached through the fire to yank the kettle off, thinking there was something on the bottom of it that was burning. However, whatever was burning was in the drip pan underneath the heating element, and it showed no sign of going out. I fingered the top of the fire extinguisher, ready to yank the pin, then reached up and pulled a pan out of the upper cupboard and slapped it down over the flames. We watched in silence for a minute, then I lifted the edge of the pan. Smoke oozed out, but the fire was gone.
“Wow,” I said helpfully.
“I THOUGHT OUR HOUSE MIGHT BURN DOWN. THAT WAS SO FAST.” Tre was quivering and blinking hard.
“That was a little scary, huh?” I looked at him and he nodded and hopped around, trying to look casual.
“Yeah. A little. But you handled it, huh?”
Max leaned against my arm, but turned his face away.
“Hey, did that scare you?” I asked Max. He shook his head, but leaned in even harder.
“I’m not scared. Stupid fire.”
I turned to look at Raphael.
“How about you? Were you scared?”
“AW, SHOOT!” Raphael was clearly disappointed. “I really wanted to see how that fire thing WORKED!” He reached for the fire extinguisher, perhaps hoping to give it a try after all. I moved it away, shaking my head at him and chuckling.
It occurred to me how clearly moments like this reveal their personality. Tre, my high-strung order freak, was Johnny-on-the-spot with the fire extinguisher. Max, who is so complex and moody that he could be a poet or liberal arts major, was dismissive and cranky, yet needed me to lean on. Raphael, the little adventure monkey, really wanted some fireworks.
It wasn’t until later, as I scrubbed away the misty smoke film from the inside of my pan, that it occurred to me that I had been there too. I had even been the hero of the moment, able to figure out what to do, despite the fact that it was before 10 and I hadn’t even had my tea yet. I remembered my high school biology teacher, who predicted I would never amount to anything, and smirked.
Take THAT, Mr. B.
First of all, confession. I’ve heard it’s good for the soul. I still have rooms and rooms worth of stuff at my parents’ house. I didn’t pack and move out like a normal person because we were moving into this not-finished home. There was NO ROOM. It was a full month before we moved my (now “our”) bed over. It was five months before the boys had beds. Plus, beside the whole “moving into a construction zone” thing, in the weeks before the wedding I was a bit preoccupied with the wedding. That there’s a lot of fuss, you know. Plus the occasional panic attack…I had my hands full.
So here we are! Eight months later, and MAYBE half of our stuff is moved. Maybe. Every time I go by Mom and Dad’s I grab a box or two. I shove a fistful of toys or shoes or books – STUFF – between the front seats of the van. It is the erosion style of moving.
”Ha! Ha!” I say on my way out the door, “Look! Now that I have this sweater, toy bow and arrow, and Tupperware container, there can’t be much left to pack! HA! HA!”
But there is.
Oh so much.
And my folks have been very patient with me, but they’re about ready to put their house on the market. I haven’t asked any Realtors to be sure, but I don’t think that the “Were they arrested? Raptured? Insane?” look does much to sell a house. Just a guess.
So I’ve been trying. Really. It’s just that LIFE refuses to STOP, ALREADY and let me pack.
This afternoon, when school was done, I dragged my herd over there. Max and Raphi played GameBoy, Kate (Clay’s 14 year old niece who is staying with us this week), watched a movie, and I stood guard outside Tre’s former room, encouraging him to pack. Tre is a bit of a packrat, so his room has proved to be a treasure trove of trash, old magazines, lint, candy wrappers, long lost toys, and science experiments. I yearn to deal with his room with an enormous bonfire, but Mom keeps reminding me that they still LIVES in the house and they NEED it at the moment.
So instead I stood there, encouraging him to throw things away, then wandering over to my old room. Just walking in there saps my will to pack. There are so many DECISIONS, you know? There always are, in a move. My thought process works like this: Do I need this pair of shoes? Am I going to be sorry in seven months, when the weather turns warm, that I don’t have this pair of pale green sandals that pinch me a little between my toes but just exactly match the green in that dress that I only wear on Easter anyway, so why couldn’t I put up with a little foot pain when Christ is risen and all? Do I have any other shoes that go with that dress? Oh, where are my snow boots? I should go find them. And get a snack. I wonder what Mom has to eat.
I wandered out of my fog and noticed Tre, sitting on the floor of his room, reading a magazine.
“Ahem,” I said. He jumped guiltily, and stuffed the magazine in a trash bag.
“Sorry, Mom. I was throwing it away and accidentally got interested.”
“Well just try to focus, okay?”
“Right. Focus.” He turned back and began manfully pawing through the chaos on the floor.
I wandered off, in search of a snack.
One thing I wish about myself is that I would not spend anymore time in my life acting like I did this evening, quiet and drawn into myself. In the midst of the familiar din of family and food, I sat as still as I could. The voices of these people I love echoed in my head as I responded as appropriately as I could and still be miles away.
I spoke to a friend this afternoon, a woman I used to hang out with regularly. I haven’t seen her since my wedding. Once upon a time, though, she was a face in my circle. Her phone number came to my finger without having to stop and think about it. The day my divorce was final she sent me a huge bouquet of sunflowers, brilliant red, streaked with gold. I selfishly put them in my bedroom and forced myself in the days that followed to notice their beauty, as they dropped soft pollen on the table underneath them. When I close my eyes I can see them.
I hadn’t thought much about the fact that we’d lost touch these past months, but today a mutual friend told me why. She’s in the midst of a divorce – I was going to say neck-deep, but there is no air where she is right now. No light.
I called her and clumsily offered her my support, and listened to her say things I’ve said myself. The same damn story. Again. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it now, and I can’t believe that it still shocks me. This is the second time this week that I’ve discovered that a family I know is being fed through this particular shredder.
And because I am at heart a small and selfish human, I spent the rest of the evening locked inside my own fear. As dinner ended and the kids wandered away, I sat next to Clay, enjoying the lull. I put my hand on his arm, and tried not to say it to him, but his eyes found mine, and that always undoes my stoic intentions.
“Don’t ever leave me,” I whispered. He shook his head at me.
“I never never will.”
I leaned against him and closed my eyes. I tried to enjoy the warmth of his skin against mine, without fearing the cold of when he’s not touching me. I remembered making the choice, two years ago, to take this chance.
I resolve again to live in hope.
A few days ago, apropos of nothing, Raphael turned the full force of his deep dark eyes on me and sighed,
“Oh, but Mom. But Mom. Won’t we EVER have pumpkin pie again? The kind with the white stuff on top? What is that?”
“Yes. Whipped cream. Won’t we ever have that again?” His chin wobbled a bit, and (I swear this is true) his eyes moistened and I caved like a rookie mom.
“Oh we’ll make one soon! We’ll make one…this week!”
That may sound like a vague sort of statement to you, but in the presence of children, it is as legally binding as a contract written in blood.
The party of the first part, hereby known as “Mom” does solemnly swear to prepare one (1) pumpkin pie within no less than six (6) days, because although a week is actually seven (7) days, the party of the second part, hereby known as “beloved child” cannot bear that long of a wait. Further more, as “Mom” has stated “We’ll make one” it is understood that “beloved child” and all brothers of said child are invited to the pie-making process, despite the fact that this means “Mom” will find pumpkin smears on the underside of the table, and may be reduced to tears when her assistants freak out and flick egg shell across the room because it is stuck to their fingers and is grossing them out. “Mom” is advised to suck it up.
So fine. After a few days of being reminded of my solemn vow to commit pie, I did indeed suck it up. First step would be a pie crust, right? I didn’t seem to have a recipe for pie crust on hand, so I popped online and asked myself, “What would Martha do?”
Apparently Martha would try to drown us all with butter. Good Lord. One pie crust, one stick of butter. Are you KIDDING me? [Aside: what is the deal with Martha? Is she trying to kill us? Seriously, is she? All her recipes seem to include the directions “Ladle one half cup of melted, unsalted butter over the nuts/egg yolk mixture. Cram it directly into your arteries.” Something like that. I am a little afraid of her. And yet? Every month I read her magazine and find myself thinking, “Oooh, that heavy cream/butter/brown sugar sauce sounds like JUST the thing for my oatmeal.” This is not good.]
But I am an obedient devotee of Martha, so I made the pie crust as directed. The scraps tasted like flour-dusted butter. Heck, they WERE flour-dusted butter. I patted the dough in the pie plate, crimped the edges ever-so-prettily, and popped it in the oven. Within five minutes it had, instead of nicely pre-baking, collapsed under the weight of all that butter. I pulled it out and mashed it back into place, muttering and blowing on my burnt fingers. I’m sure it’s EXACTLY how Martha would have handled it.
Finally it was as ready as it was going to be, sort of pre-baked, fairly mangled, and I set it aside to cool. I turned my attention to the filling and was immediately surrounded by three little helpers. Max begged to open the can of pumpkin – with the can opener, PLEASE PLEASE because he IS eight now, Tre pointed out that he could ALWAYS be trusted to crack eggs expertly, and Raphael requested repeatedly to put in the sugar.
It was only ten minutes before bedtime, and I could have easily shooed them away to get it DONE, already, but I took a deep breath and invited them into the baking. There is a special energy that it takes to ride the current of a gaggle of kids. I usually try to divide and conquer when we’re doing school work, or if I’m trying to get them to actually ACHIEVE something. It just takes so very much effort to direct them all, especially when someone is always punching someone else on the sly, and you never know when one boy is going to start making farting noises with his armpit, rendering the others helpless with hysterical laughter. I am too old. But then again, the all together mess can be fun too, so we dove in. The air was thick with exclamations (“RAPHAEL,” Tre bellowed, “STOP YELLING.” He did not see the irony in that, and was irritated with me for laughing), ingredients were inexactly measured (I should name this pie – the AntiMartha Pie, I think), and in record time I was ladling sweet pumpkin soup into the pie crust. Even more miraculously, no one had cried, nothing had been broken, and everyone was still happy. I shooed the kids down the stairs to brush their teeth and carried the pie over to the oven with the careful, gliding steps of a pageant contestant.
I set it on the oven rack and gave it a small shake to watch the filling jiggle. It’s always hard to believe that something like that is going to morph into an actual edible dessert. But when I think of what a soft and helpless mom I once was, when I was first handed newborn Tre, and I compare it to the nearly competent kid-wrangler I’ve become…well, I suppose anything’s possible.
(Edited to add: The pie is out of the oven now, and it smells great. What’s more, I broke off a flaky edge of the pie crust, and GOOD LORD, is that yummy. Martha, I swear I shall never question you again.)
“Boys are different than girls, it’s true. But boys with brothers are different still,” I announced as I was chatting with a group of friends. This is one of my more annoying habits. I tend to repeat myself when I’ve latched upon what I believe to be A Truth that I Have Learned. I know I’ve said this VERY SAME THING to at least one of the women who were there that day – probably more than…seven times. V. v. annoying.* I should carry around with me a sharp stick that people who love me could use to poke me in the eye when necessary.
“Right,” Amy said, “it’s like boyness cubed in your house, right?”
“Oh, it’s worse than that! It’s exponential!”
There was a small, embarrassed silence. I sat for a moment, with the words I’d just said echoing in my head.
“But…um…I suppose ‘cubed’ would BE exponential…wouldn’t it?” I muttered meekly. Silent nods all around.
NOW do you worry about my children’s education? Because I HAVE MORE, PEOPLE.
*By the way, can you tell I just finished reading Bridget Jones’s Diary? Am totally on the cutting edge. Mark my words, this will have been big. You know, ten years ago. Will have spawned an entirely new category in fiction. See if I’m not totally stating the obvious. Mark my words.
Want to borrow my sharp stick now?
Eleven months ago, the basement of our house was a grey, cold shell of concrete. As soon as we signed the papers and had the keys, Clay started working on the basement. See, although the house had much of what we needed, there were no bedrooms for the boys. The main floor had only our bedroom and a room for Jennie, Clay's daughter. And so he set to work.
It began with sketches, endless drawings of how to lay out the rooms. When he'd used every inch to its best advantage, he started to work...I was going to say "tirelessly," but the truth is that he worked many many nights despite the tiredness. He did it all, with help here and there. Framing, wiring, ductwork, plumbing, drywall, taping, sanding (Lord have mercy, the sanding), texturing, priming, painting. I'm sure that there are lots of other steps I'm missing, but bit by bit he's made rooms for the boys. They were hewn out of the concrete of an unfinished basement, three bedrooms, a play room, a bathroom, and a laundry room that they couldn't care less about. And on Monday, at long last, the carpet went in.
There are details left to be done, but the boys are in their rooms.
They have space to make messes with Legos.
They have room to climb...
...no matter how ill-advised it might seem.
They have their own bathroom. (Sorry for the poor picture quality. You can still see the joy, though.)
Last night, for the first time ever, Max slept in his very own room. For his whole life he has shared his room with a brother or two. He announced at breakfast that having his own room was good. Very, very good.
Lest you worry that basement rooms might be gloomy, Clay has spangled their ceilings with can lights.
He even bought the nightlights.
And so they have light and space and doors of their own, and for as long as they live here they will sleep in rooms and run their grubby fingers along walls and flip on lights that are all physical representations of their dad's love for them.
Go read more love at Chookooloonks.
Some have suggested that Raphael is a bit like me. I suppose it’s true, I wouldn’t know. After all, I don’t remember me at five years old. I remember other people, I remember events. I remember the time when I was about four and the neighbor reached through the fence and smeared grease on the front of my new dress. I’d been prancing back and forth and bragging about it so much that she got irritated with me. I can close my eyes and see it, my stomach pushing out the pin-tucked folds of pink and white, a dark comma slightly off center of the dome of my belly.
But see, I don’t remember what I said or did then. I just remember HER and how HORRIBLE and WRONG she was.
So how do you know what you were like as a child, really? How can I tell that my fierce little boy is so much like me? He almost NEVER wears pink and white pin-tucked dresses.
The other day Raphael came stomping home from the neighbor’s house. He stormed in the front door and stood there, arms crossed high on his chest, eyebrows drawn in and down so far that they impinged upon his vision. When I failed to inquire what was wrong, he made a great loud huffing noise of anger.
“Hey there, pumpkin. What’s wrong?”
“I am NEVER PLAYING WITH BETHANY AGAIN."
“Oh. Sorry to hear that.” Raphael storms home, through with Bethany forever, at least twice a week.
Just then there came a tap-tap-tap at the window. It was Bethany, gingerly rapping to get Raphi’s attention. Lord, I wish I could teach that child not to knock on the screen. She held up a small pad of paper.
“Raphi? I’m sorry! I fixed it! I wrote it with a w! Will you come back now?”
Raphael turned his head away from the window and glared at the wall, heart made of stone.
“Raphi? Please? I put a w! Like you said!”
“What happened withyou guys?" I asked.
“She kept telling me that SNOW has a magic E and I said no it does not, it has a w! But she WROTE IT WITH AN E AND I AM NEVER PLAYING WITH HER AGAIN!”
I glanced out the window, where Bethany was pressing her paper with the word SNOW written on it against the screen. Under the w you could see the ghost of an excised e.
“Honey, don’t you think you’re being a little hard on her? I mean, everyone makes mistakes.”
“It was NOT a mistake! She did it ON PURPOSE! An E! On SNOW!”
“Go talk to your friend. She said she was sorry.” He tightened his lips and jutted his chin further toward the wall. “Ok, fine. But you’re not playing GameBoy.”
He sighed at me, studied his feet for a moment, then turned and went back out to play. He and Bethany enjoyed another golden hour of play before supper. Apparently no more egregious crimes against spelling were committed.
It jostled a memory for me. When I was right about five years old my best friend was Mario. One day I was playing at Mario’s house and his mom gave us some Kool-Aid. This was one of the great and wonderful draws of Mario’s house. They had real, honest-to-God sugar, and they weren’t afraid to use it.
As we sat at the kitchen table, savoring the heady bouquet and subtle nuances of “Cherry,” Mario suddenly hopped up and ran over to the fridge.
“Hey! Let’s put ice in our Kool-Aid! If you put ice in it, it makes you have more!” He dropped a few large ice cubes in his glass, then offered me some. I was terribly taken aback. I mean, ICE? That would just water it down, and any MORON could tell that putting ice in the glass didn’t actually give you more Kool-Aid. But I didn’t know how to explain this to him.
“NO it DOES NOT.” I flicked the offending ice out of his hand.
“Yes it does! Try it! See how my glass has more now?”
“NO! It’s NOT MORE KOOL-AID!”
“Yes it is!”
“NO!” I’m not sure if I was angrier because he didn’t understand or that I couldn’t figure out how to make him understand. But I do remember staring at him in mute horror, so very irritated at his (perceived) stupidity that I seriously considered biting him for a moment.
Raphael’s rage at Bethany’s on-purpose e on the end of snow reminded me of the five year old girl I was, seriously tempted to bite her best friend over the issue of ice cubes in the Kool-Aid.
Ok, I guess it’s true. He’s somewhat (obnoxiously) like his mother. Is it wrong to be proud of this?
She tapped on the screen again. For the love of Pete, child. RIGHT THERE, next to the screen is an un-screened window. I pointed to it, and she grimaced and moved over. We’ve had this conversation BEFORE.